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Why are Women at a Higher Risk for Eye Disease Than Men?

Posted on April 5th, 2022

Women are more likely to develop eye disease than men. We’re explaining why—and how women can best prevent ocular issues.

Did you know that women are more likely to develop eye diseases than men? Or that two-thirds of visual impairment occurs in women? Simply put, there is a gender gap when it comes to eye disease. 

To mark Women’s Health and Safety Month, we’re diving into the ocular issues that predominantly impact women—and sharing tips to dodge eye disease.

We want to remind women, in particular, to pay close attention to their vision health, and be aware of the best mechanisms to mitigate issues.

Common eye diseases faced by women

As we said, females are faced with a higher likelihood of developing numerous eye diseases, such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), cataracts, dry eye, glaucoma, thyroid eye disease, refractive errors, as well as autoimmune diseases (such as Lupus, Sjögren’s Syndrome, and hyperthyroiditis), which can spur vision-related side effects.

It’s worth noting that even when studies adjust for age (because women tend to live longer than men, and are therefore more likely to develop diseases as they get older), women still experience more vision loss from AMD than their male counterparts. That said, in other eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts, longer life span definitely plays a role. 

The question is, aside from living longer, why are women at a higher risk for eye diseases than men?

The hormonal factors that impact eye diseases in women

Hormonal changes in women definitely play a role in the development of eye issues, including dry eye, uveitis, cataracts and prescription changes. In fact, many women notice shifts in their vision during their childbearing years, due to changing levels of estrogen and progesterone, which can impact the glands in the eyes and eyelids.

Furthermore, estrogen (which is the central sex hormone in women) can contribute to the elasticity of the cornea, thereby impacting the way light moves through the eye. 

Pregnancy, in particular, can present a slew of ocular shifts, directly due to hormonal and physical changes. Common pregnancy-related vision changes include dry eye, blurred vision, and refractive changes. While most changes are temporary and revert back to normal post-delivery, some can be permanent and may require medical attention and treatment. 

Beyond hormonal changes during childbearing years, women going through menopause and perimenopause may also experience eyesight changes for the same reason. Changes in thyroid function can trigger eye concerns, too, as the thyroid gland can determine the health of muscles and tissues around the eyes.

How social and economic factors play a part in eye diseases in women

Although we wish it wasn’t the case, social and economic factors undoubtedly play a role in access to eyecare particularly outside Canada, and women bear the brunt of the inequality. Obstacles such as travel expenses, and access to information and resources impact both men and women, but they are more challenging for the latter to overcome. 

How does makeup impact eye health? 

Another reason why women might experience more eye-related issues is due to eye makeup, which can migrate into the eyes. The makeup particles can collect around the eyelids and eyelashes, mingling with dead skin cells and bacteria which are naturally found around the eye. This can lead to pink eye, infections, styes, and exacerbate dry eye problems.

How to prevent eye disease in women

The good news is, many of these ocular ailments are easily preventable. Here are tips and tricks, geared towards women, to avoid the development of eye diseases. 

- Be mindful with makeup

With regard to makeup, there are a number of things to keep in mind in order to avoid eye issues. For one, ensure all makeup brushes and eyelash curlers are kept clean. Bacteria naturally clings to eyelashes, and therefore, as soon as you use a makeup tool or product on or around your eyes, it will immediately become contaminated. Another important tip is to avoid sharing products, and replace makeup every three months. Always make sure your makeup is stored in a dry, room temperature environment, since humidity and heat can cause bacterial growth. Finally, any time you do wear makeup, go for preservative-free, non-waterproof options, and make sure to remove it before going to bed for the night. Doctors also recommend avoiding eye liner, as it blocks the eye’s oil producing glands.

- Give up smoking to prevent eye diseases 

Smoking is clinically linked to numerous ocular diseases, including AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, Fuchs endothelial corneal dystrophy (an uncommon condition that causes cloudy vision), and retinal vascular occlusions or strokes. Smoking may worsen diabetic retinopathy, and substantially worsens the ocular effects of hyperthyroidism. 

- Wear sunglasses to protect your vision

Sunglasses are a great (and stylish) way to avoid the ramifications (including AMD and cataracts) of prolonged exposure to strong sunlight. Remember, sunglasses should be good quality and protect against UV and IR light.

- Eat nutritious food to benefit your eyes 

We recently summarized all the ways you can eat with your eyes in mind, including consuming more foods rich in specific vitamins and minerals. 

- Know your family history 

Exploring your family history when it comes to vision health is an essential step in order to spot early signs of eye disease and target the problem efficiently. Early diagnosis is ideal for successful treatment, so having a solid understanding of your family’s background in eye health will serve you well. 

- Be aware of side effects 

Certain medications can lead to eye issues, so it’s important to be aware of potential risks before beginning a new medication. 

- Book regular eye exams 

Last, but certainly not least, scheduling regular eye exams is the best way to monitor the status of your ocular health. Book a comprehensive eye exam today at an FYidoctors clinic near you!